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Maximilian Kolbe, a hero for our time

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The life of this courageous saint offers a powerful witness today.

If there were ever a saint for our time, it’s Maximilian Kolbe.

Watch this video to learn about the extraordinary life of the man who rejected an offer of political immunity under a genocidal regime, sheltered thousands of Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Poland, and voluntarily gave his life for another man’s.

The son of a weaver and a midwife, Maximilian, born Raymund Kolbe, grew up with four brothers. As a boy, he had a vision that Mary offered him two crowns: one white, symbolizing purity, and one red, symbolizing martyrdom. He chose both, and from then on dedicated his life to God. He entered a Franciscan seminary with his older brother, where he received the religious name Maximilian. Later he moved to Rome to study theology in preparation for Holy Orders, where he organized the Militia Immaculata, to convert souls to God through Mary.

Kolbe returned to Poland after his ordination and set to work using the new media of his time to evangelize, helping to produce a radio show and newspaper. He also undertook several mission trips to East Asia. After the Germans invaded Poland, they offered him German citizenship in exchange for signing the Deutsche Volksliste, affirming his German ancestry—but he refused. Instead, he and his brother friars secretly offered shelter to Polish refugees, including 2,000 Jews he hid from German persecution. He also continued writing and publishing, including a number of anti-Nazi publications.

At last, in 1941, German authorities shut down the monastery and arrested Kolbe and four others. He entered Auschwitz as a prisoner, where he continued his priestly ministry to the prisoners there—for which the Nazis brutally beat and harassed him.

When one day 10 prisoners managed to escape, the authorities picked 10 men to be starved to death to discourage future escape attempts. One of the men chosen cried out in concern for his wife and children, so Kolbe volunteered to take his place. In the bunker, Kolbe led the prisoners in prayer, bearing the torture calmly. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive, so the guards gave him a lethal injection.

St. Maximilian Kolbe gave an unforgettable witness of standing up to powerful evil and persevering in the truth, no matter how cruelly the people in power treated him. His example and intercession are ones our Church greatly needs today.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!

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